Dec 20, 2016
In this episode, I review a paper from the Foreign Service
Institute (FSI) about language learning and teaching. The key
insights are eleven:
- Mature adults can learn a foreign language well enough through
intensive language study to do things in the language (almost) as
well as native speakers.
- "Language-learning aptitude" varies among individuals and
affects their classroom learning success (but at least some aspects
of aptitude can be learned).
- There is no "one right way" to teach (or learn) languages, nor
is there a single "right" syllabus.
- Time on task and the intensity of the learning experience
- Learners' existing knowledge about *language* affects their
- A learner's prior experience with learning (languages or other
skills) also affects classroom learning.
- The importance of "automaticity" in building learner skill and
confidence in speaking and reading a language is more important
than has been recognised by the second language acquisition field
since the 1980s.
- Learners may not learn a linguistic form until they are
"ready", but FSI's experience indicates that teachers and a
well-designed course can help learners become ready earlier.
- A supportive, collaborative, responsive learning environment,
with a rich variety of authentic and teacher-made resources, is
very important in fostering effective learning.
- Conversation, which on the surface appears to be one of the
most basic forms of communication, is actually one of the hardest
- If a learner has passed a certain threshold of proficiency in a
language, then attrition of their knowledge over time is very low.
However, below that threshold, learners tend to forget their
language relatively quickly with time.
During this episode, I discuss each of these points, and provide
a personal point of view with reference to my own experience of
learning multiple languages over the years.
Enjoy the episode.